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Uknighted in F.U.N.

April 20, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

The idea that robots could bring together high school students from different social groups together as a team seems rather far-fetched, yet that's exactly what the Fiercely Uknighted Nation (FUN) from Union High school do each time they meet.

"Basically, we tell kids we're building robots, but what we really hope is we're using robots to build the students," Chad Seuser, the group advisor said. "We run as a student-led and mentor-guided organization and we try to empower each and every one of them."

FUN, as it was decided to be called by the founding members last year, mainly features two components of the team: the tech team and the business team. The tech team does basically what everyone would expect: work on robots.

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"It's machinery, wiring, building and programming on computers," Carter Spore said. "I myself am on the software side of things, but everyone helps out."

Spore and the tech team create the actual robot for the group, with each year demanding a new task for their creation to do in matches across the state and Midwest. The tech team preps all season for their robot's task, working to constantly improve their design and solve problems that arise.

"The robots this year had to manipulate cubes and put them on a big scale to balance it out," Spore said. "The opposite side of the scale was randomized in the match. Our robot had a manipulator arm to grab on to the cubes and a lifting mechanism to lift it to the scales."

But the tech team can't do this alone, especially since registration for regional events is costly and so is creating a robot. That's where the business team comes in. Students like Zeke Seuser make the business team runs the financial and promotion run smoothly as they work to create the best robot possible.

"The business team does a lot of the marketing and branding for Fiercely Uknighted Nation, including updating all our social media accounts and keeping our website up," Seuser said. "We do posters and promotional supplies for the competitions, where you hand out team buttons or "swag" as we call it for fun. We're the ones that approach businesses and ask them if they would like to sponsor at different levels."

According to Zeke, maintaining a strong relationship with open communications allows their sponsors and supporters to know where their contributions are going and realize FUN is far more than just a robot.

"We send out frequent newsletters to let them and our school know what we are doing," Zeke said. "In our group, we do a lot of emails and GroupMe messaging to keep each other informed."

Another cog in the wheel is strategy and graphic design, both of which Noah Damro specializes in for FUN after joining upon learning more about the group at Dysart's 4th of July.

"Most of the time I work with the business team on plans and look at strategies for the competitions," Damro said. "I'd start spitballing wacky ideas we could do. Even if I knew they couldn't work, there would be something in a strategy that could be useful going forward. We also need artists to make or team's image flourish. To be memorable, we needed flashy art for our merchandise, business cards and other things we hand out at competitions."

Altogether with 21 members, FUN prepares early to create a robot that can accomplish the assigned task within the least amount of time possible to score a trip to "Worlds", the national competition that is the goal of all members. In their very first year, FUN made it to Worlds and wanted to do the same again. The business team joined with the tech team right off the bat to generate more ideas than ever.

"This season we brought everyone together to break down the rules of the game and put together thoughts on what we wanted to do with the robot," Chad said. "I've heard many times that the business team really enjoyed that experience and tech kids liked it because they got a different perspective they may never have got before."

With a solid business plan and a robot Spore described as "robust, yet lightweight" for the season, FUN competed against other Iowa and Midwest schools, with the most recent competitions in Cedar Falls and La Crosse, WI. In Cedar Fall, FUN ran into several issues that put them 34 out of 63 teams, which was below their expectations. Rather than give in, the students came together to create their own practice field and improve on their robot. In La Crosse a week later, FUN managed a comeback as they placed themselves into the top 16 and into the quarterfinals. As it appeared another chance to make Worlds was in sight, FUN lost in the quarterfinals and had their season ended.

"Seeing our growth in such a short amount of time was incredible," Zeke said. "The best part of this experience is seeing all the people that come into this group having a great time."

The regional events make up only a portion of the year for FUN, as they remain active with community outreach to raise funds, recruit new members, and grow closer with themselves and other teams.

"This season we went to an offseason event in Lee's Summit, MO and took a charter bus with the Cedar Falls team," Damro said. "We've been close with that team ever since and we do meetups occasionally. We're friendly with a group from Minnesota that my cousin is on. When we were in La Crosse together, we had a surprise meeting."

Throughout the season, the team continued to grow together as they spend time with one another at meetings and special occasions. Birthdays are celebrated at meetings and social activities like a rafting trip last summer allowed for members to get to know each other outside of the classroom.

"There are some of us that haven't had the best time in other activities, but when they come here they feel like they can be themselve," Zeke said. "There are a lot of things for people to do here. Anyone can come and have a good time."

Chad, along with his fellow advisor Maureen Hanson, work to provide the tools their students need while also letting them lead themselves for the most part throughout the year. Despite most students coming from separate backgrounds and activities, he feels they all come together to have fun and accomplish something special together.

"These students always surprise you," Chad said. "It's really fun to be a part of these kids' lives in this way. Maureen and I have will cherish the memories we've made here."



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